Getting The Message Out There
Effective communication among your staff, with the customer and with your suppliers, is of the highest importance in ensuring that customers with food allergy have accurate information, however, it’s not solely your responsibility, your customers also have a responsibility to ask for information and relay their dietary needs to the person providing the food. Customers should make the final decision on whether or not to buy and eat a food, based on the information you provide.
In the absence of labels on non pre-packed food (i.e. the food you serve in your pub) , the allergic customer who requires ingredient information is reliant on verbal communication with staff at the point of sale, or written information provided voluntarily (for example, on menus, display tickets or information boards). Effective communication is therefore vital and could help to ensure that a customer does not eat something that could risk their life.
You need to think carefully about how to handle requests for information from a food allergic customer and how to make sure your team have access to the requested information. It is essential that if a member of staff is asked about the ingredients of a food, they ensure that any information they provide is full and accurate. If the information is not available, they should say so and if in doubt, staff should be advised to ask another (more senior) member of staff before responding to the customer. You might consider making your chef(s) your pub’s ‘allergy adviser’ so that someone is available at all times to answer requests for allergen information, but don’t forget to make arrangements for when these members of staff are not available.
If staff cannot obtain reliable information about the content of a food, they should never guess. Instead, they should tell the customer they are unable to provide the information requested and cannot be sure that the food in question is free of the ingredient concerned.
You may be able to provide a special meal not containing that allergen especially if the customer gives you prior warning, for example, it may be relatively easy to provide a salad without nut oil dressing (for someone who is allergic to nuts), or a meat dish without a sauce containing flour for someone who has coeliac disease, but don’t forget the cross-contamination risks.
Two particularly difficult areas of pub food to police are carveries and self-service finger buffets (such as those you lay on for parties) due to the risk of cross-contamination once the food is served. If a business knows in advance that an allergic customer will be present (this is often the case for this type of event) a suitable selection from the buffet should be selected beforehand and held separately for the custom.
Let your customers know you are fully allergen aware by joining Allergy UK’s accrediation scheme, click here for more details.
Food Allergy Can Cause Embarrassment
Some of your customers may find it difficult to tell staff that they have a food allergy, and may feel awkward, not wanting to make a fuss, so you need to find ways to make your customers feel more comfortable about asking for information. This could be in the form of a poster, or a statement put on the menu, letting customers know that the establishment is happy to help with food allergy requests. For example:
“If you require further information on the allergen content of our foods please ask a member of staff and they will be happy to help you.”
7 tips on food allergy…
1. When someone asks you if a food contains a particular ingredient, always check every time – never guess. If you check but you’re still not sure, tell the customer so they can decide for themselves.
2. If you are selling a food that contains one or more of the ingredients which can cause a problem, list them on the card, label or menu – and make sure the information is accurate.
3. Keep up-to-date ingredients information for any ready-made foods that you use (for example, a filling you put in a sandwich). The ingredients might be on the label or invoice.
4. When you are making food, make sure you know what is in all the ingredients you use, including cooking oils, dressings, toppings, sauces and garnishes.
5. If you change the ingredients of a food, make sure you update your ingredients information and tell other staff about the change.
6. If someone asks you to make some food for them that does not contain a particular ingredient, don’t say yes unless you can make sure that absolutely none of that ingredient will be in the food.
7. If you’re making food for someone with an allergy, make sure work surfaces and equipment have been thoroughly cleaned. And wash your hands thoroughly before preparing that food.
For more information and advice about allergy, visit: food.gov.uk/allergy
If you want a free online training resource for your staff, complete with an online quiz then the Pelican buying group has one here. (Enter HTRAP1503 as the licence code for the quiz).
What To Do If Things Go Wrong…
Hopefully your staff training, the systems you put in place and your effective communication with staff and customers will prevent any mishaps, however, in the event someone exhibits the symptoms of anaphylaxis you need to act quickly and calmly.
All staff should know what to do if they think a customer may be having an allergic reaction. Whether they are having an allergic reaction is not always clear because other serious conditions can have similar symptoms. But, even if you’re not sure what the problem is, if a customer is finding it hard to breathe, if their lips or mouth are swollen, or if they collapse, you should:
- Contact the first aider in your pub, if you have one
- Call 999 immediately and describe what is happening
- Explain that you think the customer may be having a serious allergic reaction
- Do not move the customer, because this could make them worse
- Send someone outside to wait for the ambulance and stay with your customer until help arrives
And if you doubt things can and do go wrong and the consequences for you and your business then read this article or this article on a restaurant owner jailed for six years for the manslaughter of a customr with a peanut allergy.
One Year On
Customers feel the availability of “free from” foods when eating out has improved particularly at restaurants but more still needs to be done, according to a new survey. Twelve months after the introduction of the EU Food Information for Consumers legislation, 89% of people surveyed by guest experience management experts HospitalityGEM felt it had improved. Restaurants are the clear leader in providing the best choice of dishes with 72% of respondents recognising this.
When it comes to eating out, 23% said they had special dietary requirements, with vegetarianism the number one need, and shellfish the most avoided food (44%). Women are twice as likely to identify as having special food requirements, with just 14% of men saying they do. Those aged 36-45 years old are also most likely to have dietary needs. The survey also found 58% felt while the ingredients in dishes are clearly communicated by operators, there is room for improvement. 30% said team members were not well trained on the ingredients in dishes.
While restaurants were highlighted as having the best choice of “free from” dishes, 0% identified takeaways with fast food outlets not far behind at 2%. The lack of choice of suitable dishes at these venues is the greatest concern for those who have special dietary requirements (40%). For grab-and-go outlets, M&S Foodhall was seen as the best caterer for those with special dietary requirements (43%) followed by Pret A Manger (18%).
HospitalityGEM managing director Steven Pike said: “One year on from the introduction of the EU allergen legislation and it’s clear many operators are doing what they can to make consumers more confident when eating out, through clearer communication about ingredients and a greater range of ‘free-from’ dishes. However, the identification of staff training as an area in need of improvement should encourage the operator to look hard at their sites and how team members are briefed on this important aspect of food service. It should be part of any induction and also revisited regularly as menus and teams change.”
In short, there’s a huge opportunity for you to exploit here for pubs as many consumers do not feel well served with their dietary requirements or choices.